I like Daniel Hudson, but not his in-laws

This past weekend, I got married. Fantasy trades were made between guests at the wedding. I’ve now written about said trades at said wedding. So, here’s my question, can I write the whole shindig off as a business expense now?

One of the many marriages that must take place on the baseball diamond is that of a team’s starting rotation and its bullpen. Or, in another marital analogy, drafting a starter is like marrying him, and his bullpen makes up the in-laws. The dynamics of a team’s relative strengths in its pen and rotation, along with its offensive prowess don’t just go a long way to determine how many games that team wins, but it also help to determine to whom those wins are credited.

When considering starting pitchers, of course the ideal intersection of these dynamics is a strong starter who is bolstered by a solid pen and flanked by a powerful offense. Jon Lester is basically the poster child for this dream scenario. But, when everything isn’t lined up so neatly, there are other trends we may expect to see. So here are a couple of fantasy-oriented observations about the intersection of starters, relievers, and offenses in 2011.

A reliever on the Yankees will flirt with double-digit wins
This point was brought up on Josh Shepardson and Jeffrey Gross’ auction strategy podcast, which I highly recommend, by the way. The podcast briefly mentions the strategy of building an ace starter out of multiple elite (and cheap) middle relievers (a strategy I love and reference often). During this conversation, it was noted that it’s a good bet that either Rafael Soriano or Joba Chamberlain will win a bunch of games in 2011. I wholeheartedly agree. Relief wins can be difficult to predict, but the anatomy of a double-digit win reliever situation is present in the Bronx. In place are is a weak back end of a rotation and a highly potent offense. This means there are likely to be a lot of Yankee games decided in innings six to eight.

Chamberlain may be the more likely of the two to pitch more than one inning in an outing and therefore may have a greater vulture win potential than Soriano, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Soriano racked up his share of wins too. We also began seeing the Yankees giving Mariano Rivera a handful of nights off last season, and I would expect Soriano to get those opportunities as well. I think Soriano is very worth owning, even as a middle reliever. It seems reasonable for him to notch a half dozen each of wins and saves while posting his usually sterling rates stats, including K/IP.

Good starting pitching efforts on the South side will be rewarded
I’m not totally enamored with any of the starters for the White Sox, but they do have a few things going for them, namely a solid offense and a quite strong bullpen core. Chris Sale, Matt Thornton, Sergio Santos and Jesse Crain should equal 250-300 solid bullpen innings. Ozzie Guillen’s tendency to let his pitchers go deep is a fickle fantasy mistress; on the one hand he gives his starters every chance to get their decisions, but on the other it seems like no manager is more willing to let his starters really take a beating than Ozzie. Of course, Chicago’s starters also have to contend with a homer-friendly home park, but in terms of upside in the wins category, John Danks probably has a much of it as any pitcher in his tier.

Oakland is a nice place to pitch
I think the A’s are going to be one of those teams that performs pretty well in 2011 and surprises a few people. They quietly were a .500 team last year (underperforming their pyth by four games) and the young team should continue to improve in 2011. While the Rangers remain the front-runner in the AL West, Seattle projects to be fairly awful again this year, and I actually expect another sub .500 season from the Angels, especially if Kendry Morales starts the season on the DL and misses significant time again. This leaves Oakland with a fairly weak division, a favorable home park, a very good defense, and— especially with the news that Andrew Bailey should be okay—a very strong bullpen. Yes, they are offensively challenged, but all the other ingredients are there.

Trevor Cahill and Dallas Braden don’t strike out enough batters to interest me as anything more than stronger shallower league streaming options, but Brett Anderson should be solid and Gio Gonzalez could be a stud in the making. If you’re looking for a young pitcher with the potential to make a huge leap into truly elite status, a la Ubaldo Jimenez, I’d consider Gio as one of the better bets. It helps to have advantages beyond the things you can control.

Arizona will be where quality starts go to die… again
Last year, Arizona’s bullpen was especially bad. At around the All Star break, I remember reading that they were on pace to break the record for worst bullpen ERA of all time, or something. To be blunt, they’re going to stink again. J.J. Putz provides them with a legitimate closer type, but ironically, on a bad team, that may be the worst way to use him; you’re basically giving your best reliever the fewest innings of any core member of your bullpen. Oh, and he’s an injury risk too. Combine this bullpen situation with a launching pad of a home park and a just generally bad team, and you just have multiple forces conspiring against Arizona’s pitchers. With Gio Gonzalez fetching similar prices to Daniel Hudson, I’d much rather bet on Gio, and when it comes to $3-$4 pitchers, I can think of a dozen I’d rather try my luck with than Ian Kennedy.

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Comments

  1. Pops said...

    Do you see a difference in Edinson Volquez and Gio Gonzalez?  I like both pitchers this year and will be targeting them in the middle rounds in all formats.

  2. Derek Ambrosino said...

    I like Gio much better. Here are the red flags I see with Volquez – he has a substantial injury history, he plays in a very hitter friendly park, and his walk rate hasn’t really shown any signs of improvement over the years. Last year, Volquez looked like he may have been making progress toward becoming a very good groundball pitcher, but it’s hard to tell because of sample size. His walk total has also been out of control for virtually every season except the one full year he pitched – and perhaps there is something to that, settling into a rhythm and all, but that’s not enough to convince me. Further, the park he plays in simply gives him much less room for error in terms of putting guys on base. Gonzalez, on the other hand, has been making steady progress in his control, which is really the only that kept him from being truly elite last season. A slight uptick in the Ks and another incremental decrease in the walks, and we could have a top 20 pitcher on our hands.

    At the end of the day, I think more has to go right for Volquez, he’s got as many improvements to make and has more non-stuff related factors stacked against him. He has considerably greater bust potential than Gonzalez, IMO, and that makes him a much less attractive asset, IMO.

    Where Volquez is slated to go in drafts, I try to look for value – and I consider a Volquez pick to be more of an upside pick. Here’s how I generally try to characterize my picks of pitchers as the draft rolls on – the archetype of what I am looking usually evolves like so:

    - (I usually don’t select the Lincecums and Halladays, so they’re out)
    -  Young emerging studs, or players who fit that bill two years ago but hit a bump in the road, or people thought so at least (Hamels last year, Greinke this year)
    - Pitchers who may be a known good but flawed commodity, but who still have the potential to make another leap (Ricky Nolasco, I’ve selected James Shields with this theory too, I went after Jonathan Sanchez a bunch last year too)
    - Fairly known commodities who the market is simply undervaluing, or veterans whose previous seasons numbers made it look like they were on the downslide, but either have too much pedigree to be written off, or weren’t really as bad as the surface numbers may have looked. (Roy Oswalt was my number one player for this bill last year. On the cheaper side of this coin, Ted Lilly always seems to fit this bill. Javier Vazquez this year?)
    - Upside picks. Uber talented youngsters lacking job security or any major league experience. Previously elite pitchers coming off of injury. Lots of risk, lots of reward.

  3. Pops said...

    Great response.  With that being said, where do you look to grab Gonzalez?  He is ranked 299 (not a joke) over at ESPN, appearing after names like Baker, Braden and Lackey.

  4. Samson said...

    To keep this discussion ongoing, please rank the following mid tier pitchers:

    Gio Gonzalez
    Brandon Morrow
    Daniel Hudson
    Jhoulys Chacin
    Madison Bumgarner
    Edison Volquez

  5. Derek Ambrosino said...

    Hey guys – just thought I’d share part of an email convo I had with a reader, who asked me to rank a list of pitchers not too different, but longer than the list above:
    Here’s his list, and some of thoughts below. Note that there are some scoring considerations here that I considered when ranking (they help Danks, IMO)

    GIO
    MORROW
    NOLASCO
    D HUDSON
    LEWIS
    DANKS
    J SANCHEZ
    CHACIN
    BECKETT
    CJ WILSON
    GARCIA
    VOLQUEZ
    E SANTANA
    DE LA ROSA

    ———-

    Full disclosure, I’m not a meticulous rankings guy, I normally draft by feeling more than many experts, and especially when it comes to pitching I try to find lots of options are various price ranges that I like and then just pounce when I think there’s a bargain.With that said, here’s how I would break those guys down into tiers.

    Tier 1
    > Sanchez
    > Gonzalez

    The Ubaldo comparison may have been a bit hyperbolic, though I guess it’s possible. More likely, Gonzalez makes the kind of leap Sanchez did last year. Sanchez should probably be ranked ahead of Gio, seeing as how he’s actually done this before.

    Tier 2
    > Danks
    > Nolasco
    > Morrow

    I’m not sure how to order these guys. They have opposite upsides given that IP and Ks are important in your league. Danks is probably the safest bet, and most likely to get his 200 IP. Morrow and Nolasco are a bit more volatile and both have very high K potential. Morrow has more injury concern, but an even higher K ceiling – though Nolasco closed 2010 on Charlie Sheen-esque K binge.

    Tier 3
    > Lewis
    > Hudson
    > Chacin
    > Wilson
    > Garcia
    > Becket

    At this point, it’s hard to bank on Beckett playing full seasons and missed time could really hurt. I really like Lewis. I watch him a lot last year and was very impressed. Wilson is probably one of the safer picks in the group. His upside is limited, but you’d think he should be good for 180 innings and 13-15 wins. Chacin has true breakout potential. He’s got that power pitcher/low FB rate thing going, which is a good thing. What might be holding me back from being more bullish on him is a simple lack of familiarity. His ceiling is higher than Garcia’s.

    Tier 4
    > De la Rosa
    > Santana
    > Volquez

    I can’t fathom Santana winning 17 games agiain and he’s only really had 1 truly good fantasy season and never replicated that K rate. Volquez is just too injury prone for me, and I don’t think the upside is a high as others do. Meanwhile, I don’t see the De la Rosa breakout coming – I think his control is just too far away. He’s a leap from where he’d need to be to
    break out, not a step.

    For what it’s worth, I think it could be splitting hairs between some of these guys, or just a matter of preference for skill set and risk tolerance. I think most of the guys in tiers 1 – 3 above fall between the #20 – 35 SPs. Tier 3 was especially hard for me to order. (And, in tier 2, I’m inclined to advise Danks, but I’d be likely to take Nolasco myself.)

  6. Derek Ambrosino said...

    Thanks!

    Well, it looks like there’s no shortage of opinions.

    I definitely have to look more deeply into Chacin. I’m feeling as if my relative trepidation may not be totally rational.

    To all –

    This whole exercise is really a good reminder that what should matter to you is getting guys you like at prices that you like. Speaking for myself, my listing of players is not any sort of guarantee that the players I have higher are measurably more likely to end up on my team. Very few players are sure things, so it becomes equally important to get players at the right prices. …As the bettors say, don’t bet the team; bet the number. And, in this respect, the players who you are actually the most likely to acquire are those who you think are most mispriced, which may or may not correlate with who you think is best. If you have especially strong feelings for or against any of the mid tier players you should act, by all means. But, the more agnostic you are, the more willing you should be to let the market decide your choices, while you focus to other decisions that you may feel the more strongly about.

  7. Jeffrey Gross said...

    I’d go:
    Madison Bumgarner
    Jhoulys Chacin
    Daniel Hudson
    Gio Gonzalez
    Brandon Morrow
    Edison Volquez

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